Tuesday March 2nd, 2010

I'll start this morning with news of how I have the best readers in the history of the web:

In the first 24 hours of our Five For Fighting fundraiser for Army First Sgt. Mike McGuire's 135-member company being deployed to Afghanistan later this year, and for other U.S. troops in the war zones, you've donated $59,744 to the USO for the cause. I asked for $5 per person, but so many of you have done so much more. We've had 2,394 donors (as of 9:30 a.m. today), which translates to $24.96 per donation.

I'm in awe of your generosity. As is the USO.

"Those are the kinds of numbers we see only on New Year's Eve, when people are trying to beat the tax deadline for donations,'' USO online marketing VP Jeremy Albritton told me this morning. "This is an incredible display by your readers.''

The USO estimates that it costs about $20,000 per USO2GO box (the portable entertainment center we're going to send McGuire, and the other platoons at remote bases in Iraq and Afghanistan). So you've raised money for three shipments of video games, recreation equipment, a TV and other off-time stuff that soldiers deployed deep in small pods deep in the heart of the war zones don't have. For McGuire's company, we're also going to send some weight-training equipment, which is not included normally in these boxes. If you'd still like to donate, keep the momentum going for all the troops.

Here is the link.

Thanks, thanks, thanks, and I'll continue to keep you updated as the campaign goes on.


When I asked NFL scouts and execs about the quarterbacks in this draft, the one word I heard a couple of times about Oklahoma's Sam Bradford was "frail.'' But when I met the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Bradford for an interview at an Indy hotel late Saturday night, he didn't look frail. He'd bulked up 13 pounds from the Sooners' season while rehabbing his surgically repaired right shoulder at Athletes Performance Institute in Pensacola, Fla., obviously aware that he was going to get some questions about his physical stature. When we met, I thought I'd be meeting a Matt Ryan clone -- a tall kid who needed to fill out. Bradford doesn't look like he needs to fill out right now.

It's interesting -- Bradford as a college player physically compares to Ryan. Both guys exited college -- Ryan from Boston College in 2008, Bradford from Oklahoma in 2010 -- with fine college résumés but physical concerns about holding up to the NFL beatdowns. Other than the bad turf toe Ryan suffered in 2009, he's handled the physical part of it well. If Bradford checks out physically, which is a very big but (Ryan had no such major shoulder surgery entering his NFL career), I've got to think, like Ryan, that Bradford will be a top-five pick in the draft. St. Louis, picking first, and Washington (fourth) are the best bets to get him.

I was curious to measure Ryan, picked third by the Falcons in 2008, against Bradford. Ryan's career completion percentage: .599. Bradford's .676. Ryan's career yards per attempt: 6.92. Bradford's: 9.41. Ryan's career touchdown-to-interception ratio: plus-19. Bradford's: plus-72.

By those measurements, Bradford's a better prospect. And as a couple of NFL coaches told me, his downfield accuracy is good to very good by pro standards right now -- assuming his arm checks out fine.

Ryan is probably more of a leader. Bradford is confident and well-spoken, but the book on him is he's not a rah-rah type. So we'll see how the physical part of his résumé comes out after he throws at his pro day at Oklahoma in three weeks. But I'd be surprised if he gets past Washington at four. And I agree with Adam Schefter, who said the other day he expects the Rams to pick him number one overall if they consider Bradford a no-doubt franchise quarterback.

I asked Bradford if he thought he'd justify such a high pick. "Yeah, I think I would,'' he said. "If I didn't believe in myself as much as I do, I wouldn't be here right now. I wasn't highly recruited coming out of high school, and a lot of people didn't think I belonged playing at Oklahoma. But I did, and I think I'll be able to show people the same thing at this level.''

His arm, he says, has felt "so good, I'm thinking in my mind, 'Why don't they let me throw every day? [He is throwing three days a week.] But I know my trainers and doctors know best. I know I'll be able to throw without limitations and without pain at my Pro Day.'' The Oklahoma Pro Day is set for March 26.


Re the Sean Payton/Jerry Jones/wine spat from yesterday's column:

NFL.com friend Craig Ellenport e-mailed to say the NFL site had a live chat with Payton on Monday, and Ellenport relayed this response from the Saints coach about the incident of taking the Dallas owner's pre-reserved magnum of wine and drinking it Friday at the team dinner at St. Elmo steakhouse:

"After he replied to a question about raising the intensity of the rivalry,'' Ellenport wrote, "I asked Sean if he had spoken to Jerry since the Dallas dinner on Saturday night. He said yes -- he actually stopped by at the end of the dinner Saturday night to see them. Here's Sean's reply from the chat:

" 'I was at the Dallas dinner Saturday -- stopped by at the end of their dinner, and we had some good laughs. Jerry and I chatted, and we had the empty wine bottle right next to us. Jerry was going to bring it back to Dallas with him as a keepsake, but it accidentally broke that night at the restaurant!' "


Ironic Hockey Note of the Day: Fifty hours after Sidney Crosby shot the puck through the legs of Ryan Miller in the most dramatic hockey moment since 1980, guess who matches up at the Igloo in Pittsburgh?

Sidney Crosby. Ryan Miller. (Although I'm told Miller may not play and the Sabres may give him time to recover mentally and physically from the grind of the Olympics.)

Pittsburgh hosts Buffalo tonight in the first post-Olympic game for both. What a weird dynamic. The American crowd will go nuts for Crosby, the Canadian, naturally. Regardless of whether Miller plays, I hope the American crowd also goes nuts for Miller, the American, even though he's the enemy tonight.


Now onto your e-mail.

OUR CANADIAN CORRESPONDENT CHECKS IN. From Harvey Greene (media relations director, Miami Dolphins) of Davie, Fla.: "Enjoyed reading your note today about the Canada-USA hockey game. I was in charge of the press box setup for the entire hockey tournament at the Olympics (I just got back from Vancouver a few hours ago), and I can tell you I never saw a sporting event quite like that gold-medal game (or even the Canada-USA and Canada-Russia games that preceded it). The entire country, from Vancouver to Halifax, was on pins and needles the entire game and when Crosby scored, I'm sure the explosion of sound in Canada Hockey Place was duplicated in every city and hamlet across the country.

"There just isn't anything like that comparable in the States. We don't have a 'national' team in any sport that the entire country truly cares about. Crosby's goal ranks as one of the greatest moments in the country's history (and I'm not talking just sports). Years from now, people will remember exactly where they were when he scored, which, with rare exceptions, usually only take place when a major tragedy strikes. (The last time I can remember something positive taking place like that in this country is our first moon landing back in 1969.) Anyway, just wanted to mention it to you. It was a great tournament with outstanding hockey and I was fortunate to be a part of it -- all 30 games.''

Thanks for checking in, Harvey. I wish there was one national team that could engender the kind of loyalty and emotion that the national hockey team did in Canada.

CLAUSEN'S FATE. From Ethan T. of Indianapolis: "I noticed you listed Jimmy Clausen as possibly slipping to the second round. Are teams that concerned about his character that he'd drop that far? I watched him throughout his college career -- he can make all the throws and you can't question his toughness after the beatings he took as a freshman and sophomore. He might be cocky, but what football player isn't to some extent?''

Look, I'm just relaying what I heard from some NFL people, not passing personal judgment on the kid. He's likely going to be the second-rated quarterback in the draft, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the first round to anyone needing a passer, like Seattle with the 14th pick.

OVERTIME FATIGUE. From Cody Jones of Shreveport, La.: "I'm just tired of the overtime thing. There's no guarantee that both teams get to touch the ball in the previous four quarters, so why change it for overtime? Should we guarantee that both teams get a possession every quarter? No, that's sissy-fied. You don't want to go to overtime? Score more points. You don't want to lose in overtime? Score more points or stop the opposing team. The game is not decided by a coin flip, it's decided by the coaching and the men on the field. Always has been. I don't care about the percentages of win-loss in OT. Both teams already had their chance to touch the ball in four quarters! Politically, I'm Independent, but this sounds like liberal football. Make sure everybody gets a fair chance. Rubbish.''

You have lots of company, and I know I won't change your mind. I feel the way I feel about overtime because of one simple reason: Rules are made in football, and in life, to try to ensure fairness for all involved. If you created a system in football in 1974, when kickers made six of 10 field goals and kicked off in OT from the 35-yard line, why does the system have to be the same in 2010, when kickers make eight of 10 field goals and kick off from the 30? Laws are amended all the time in the real world to adjust to the times. There's no reason why the rules in NFL cannot be amended to make overtime a fair process for both teams, not more fair for the team that wins the coin toss.

PACIFIC TIME ZONE ANGER ABOUT THE DRAFT WILL ROIL THE NFL SOON. From Shawn of Tempe, Ariz.: "My wife tolerates being a football widow each season. And she tolerates me referring to NFL draft weekend as a national holiday. But taking over the TV on Thursday, canceling Friday night plans, and leaving work early two days in a row is unacceptable to even me. This makes league coverage inaccessible to a huge percentage of loyal fans. Now that the NFL is king how about maintaining a fan-friendly approach instead of creating seat license fees, exorbitant satellite TV pricing, and now inaccessible draft coverage. Can you start a MMQB: CFL column?''

When the NFL planned to start the first round at 4:30 PT on a Thursday afternoon and the second round at 3:30 PT Friday, I knew there'd be howls of protest. I agree with you. The draft was money on Saturday, a national holiday for football fans, and now, even though the league is sure to get better TV ratings by having the draft spread over three days (two in prime time), there will be something lost with this format. I don't like it at all. I suggest you write to Roger Goodell at the NFL in New York, or Tweet him (@nflcommish) to register your objections, and urge him to change it for 2011.

I DON'T LIKE THE JETTISONING OF THOMAS JONES, BUT IT'S THE WAY THE NFL DOES BUSINESS. From Rex of Yonkers, N.Y.: "Did the Jets just make a big mistake by releasing Thomas Jones? I mean, all the guy did was rush for over 3,800 yards the past three seasons. I know the Jets' rushing attack is deep with Shonn Greene and Leon Washington, but why mess with a good thing? And don't say money -- Jones was due a total of $5.8 million this season (which is uncapped) and that would have been the final year of his contract. Why be cheap now?''

It's the reality of football. Jones will be a 32-year-old running back this season, and he averaged 310 carries over the past three years. The Jets would have owed him a $2.8 million bonus this month if he stayed. Who can like the firing of a standout player who was a major part of team success?

FIVE FOR FIGHTING FAN. From Brian Fitzgerald of Chevy Chase, Md.: "Great column, Peter. In regards to the donations for Mike McGuire and his brave troops, I want to pose a challenge to all the other readers. Give "Five for Fighting, with a Ten Minute Misconduct." If you can give $5, wonderful. If you can give $15, then so many more of our courageous soldiers can be helped. Thanks for doing this, Peter!''

It's you who deserve the thanks, Brian. Great idea. Here's the link again.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.